The Amazing Historical Significance of the 2005 Blue Jays

Thursday, November 24 2005 @ 12:45 AM EST

Contributed by: Magpie

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

So there I was, thinking my work was done. I could put the 2005 Blue Jays aside, polish off my piece on the 1920 Season (appearing December 1 at a Batter's Box near you!), and get cracking at last on the long-delayed Lobby of Numbers.

And then Mike Green, pondering the eternal mystery of the Blue Jays W-L record in relation to their runs scored and allowed, made a most excellent suggestion:

Consider all teams that have a significantly positive RS/RA ratio (perhaps a differential of more than 50) and a losing record in a season... It would be interesting to see if there were common characteristics of such teams - speed (or absence thereof), power, batting average, bullpen strength, bench strength, in comparison with league averages.

I ignored the Federal League, and I ignored all defunct 19th century teams. That left 2282 seasons. I have nothing but time...

There might be, I don't know, 20-30 such teams.

There are ten. Ten! Out of 2282!

I can also now compare the actual won-loss record of 2282 teams with their Pythagorean expectation. The greatest over-achiever of all-time? That would be... drum roll, please... the 1905 Detroit Tigers, who should have played .418 ball but pulled off a 79-74 record instead. Second on the list were the 1981 Cincinnati Reds, whom history remembers for having the best record in the 1981 strike season but missing out on the post-season because of that absurd split-season business. The injustice of it all doesn't seem so awful anymore. And the 2005 Arizona Diamondbacks come in as the seventh luckiest team of all time.

The most unfortunate team ever? Well, the 1883 Cincinnati Red Stockings in the American Association finished third with a 61-37 record. They should have finished first. They're followed by the 1905 Cubs, who went 92-61 for third place. Their runs scored and allowed says they should have won 106 games, and nosed out the Giants for first place. If you want some teams of more recent vintage... the 1993 Mets, the 1984 and 1986 Pirates, and the 1967 Orioles also made the top ten list of hard-luck outfits.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. We're looking for teams that outscored the opposition by 50 runs or more, but lost more games than they won.

As it turns out, the Blue Jays are just the third team ever to out-score the opposition by 70 runs, and lose more than they won:

Year	Team	Lg	G	W	L	PCT	RS	RA	Diff

1955	CIN	N	154	75	79	0.487	761	684	77
1958	CIN	N	154	76	78	0.494	695	621	74
2005	TOR	A	162	80	82	0.494	775	705	70
1995	BAL	A	144	71	73	0.493	704	640	64
1984	HOU	N	162	80	82	0.494	693	630	63
1967	BAL	A	161	76	85	0.472	654	592	62
1951	BOS	N	154	76	78	0.494	723	662	61
1964	MIN	A	162	79	83	0.488	737	678	59
1908	BOS	A	154	75	79	0.487	564	513	51
1968	PIT	N	162	80	82	0.494	583	532	51
So what the Blue Jays did this season was almost without precedent in the history of the game. Which pleases me for two reasons: 1) it's just really cool, and 2) there are only 10 teams to look at.

1955 Cincinnati Reds - The 1955 Reds were a very good offensive team with average pitching. Crosley Field was a hitter's park, but the Reds offense was still impressive. They were second in the league in runs scored, trailing the only the World Series champion Dodgers (who were arguably one of the great hitting teams of all time). They hit 181 homers, third in the league behind Brooklyn (202) and Milwaukee (182). First baseman Ted Kluszewki and right fielder Wally Post combined to hit 87 home runs; centre fielder Gus Bell and catcher Smokey Burgess added another 47 homers. Johnny Temple and defensive whiz Roy McMillan gave them a very strong middle infield. Third base and left field were both revolving door positions.
The starting rotation was unsettled for most of the season. Joe Nuxhall (17-12, 3.47) was the ace: Art Fowler, Billy Martin's longtime pitching coach, was the only other pitcher to start more than 18 times. Manager Birdie Tebbetts handling of his pitching staff looks chaotic from this vantage point. He used his pitchers every which way, as both starters and relievers. Nuxhall appeared in 50 games, 33 of them starts; Fowler was in 46 games, 28 starts. The only specialist was relief ace Hersh Freeman, who was 7-4, 2.16 with 11 saves in 52 relief appearances.
The Reds weren't all that bad in one-run games: they went 17-21. What really skews their record is a tendency to score lots and lots of extra runs in blowouts. They played 20 games that were decided by seven runs or more. In those games, the Reds went 16-4 and outscored their opponents by 121 runs (203-82).

1958 Cincinnati Reds - Curiously, this team is quite different from the 1955 squad. It's a more balanced squad, that finished third in the league in both runs scored and allowed. As Crosley Field was still a very fine hitter's park, we can conclude that this bunch had very good pitching, but just an average offense. Rather like your 2005 Blue Jays, no? The Reds were second-last in both homers and slugging percentage. Kluszewki and Post were both gone - young outfielder Frank Robinson, who hit 31, was the only player to hit more than 16 homers. They did get lots of people on base, however - they were second in walks and On-Base average. Temple, McMillan, and Don Hoak gave them very fine infield defense. Bob Purkey (17-11, 3.60) led the pitching staff, supported by Nuxhall and Harvey Haddix. The staff roles were much more settled than they had been in 1955, possibly because Jimmie Dykes replaced Tebbetts as the manager in August.
This team also did well in blowouts, but they didn't play nearly as many. They had 11 games decided by seven runs or more. They went 8-3, outscoring the opposition by 63 runs (114-51). This team's real problem came in the one-run games: they went a grisly 17-30. Also rather like your 2005 Blue Jays.

2005 Toronto Blue Jays - You know about these guys. The offense was roughly league average, and the power production was below average. It had good pitching, although the short relief was a little iffy from time to time. They did well in blowouts, going 13-8 in games decided by seven or more runs, outscoring the opposition by 47 runs (150-103). But they were dreadful (16-31) in one-run games, as I have been discussing endlessly...

1995 Baltimore Orioles - Despite three straight winning seasons, the Orioles had fired manager Johnny Oates at the end of 1994. They replaced him with Phil Regan, who had never before managed in the majors, and from all accounts was seriously out of his depth. The Orioles had excellent pitching; they were second only to Cleveland in preventing the other team from scoring. Mike Mussina (19-9, 3.29) was the only starter who made it through the entire season, and Doug Jones was the closer - but Jamie Moyer, Kevin Brown, Scott Erickson, and Ben McDonald all had their moments. The offense was another story. It had enormous strengths (Rafael Palmeiro, Harold Baines, and Bobby Bonilla after arriving in mid-season) and equally enormous holes (Manny Alexander, Kevin Bass, and Curtis Goodwin.) Jeff Manto, Cal Ripken, and Chris Hoiles were all solid The Orioles were fifth in the league in home runs, sixth in slugging, and eighth in on-base average; but there was something dysfunctional about it all and they finished ninth in runs scored.
The Orioles went 14-16 in one-run games; their run differential most likely had more to do with their performance in blowouts. The Orioles did well (13-6) here, outscoring the opposition by 58 runs (146-88.) They also closed out their season in spectacular fashion. They won nine of their last ten games, holding the opposition to just 15 runs while scoring 73. They finished the year with five consecutive shutouts.

1984 Houston Astros - The 1984 Astros 80-82 record put them in a second-place tie, 12 games back of San Diego. The big story in Houston was the serious injury suffered by their young superstar shortstop, Dickie Thon, in the season's fifth game. Thon would miss a year and a half and never come close to being the same player again.
Houston finished third in the league in runs scored, fourth in runs allowed. Seeing as how they were playing half their games in the Astrodome, this suggests that they were really an offensive powerhouse, with somewhat ordinary pitching. The original Jose Cruz had an awesome season, although the Dome did much to disguise it. Craig Reynolds did a fine job filling in for Thon, and he was the weakest bat in the lineup. Because of the Dome, the Astros hit only 79 home runs - but they were fourth in slugging anyway. They were the highest scoring team in the league in road games. The Dome also hid some problems on the pitching staff - only four teams gave up more runs in road games. None of Joe Niekro, Bob Knepper, and Nolan Ryan were really ace material at this time, and fourth starter Mike Scott (5-11, 4.68) had yet to master the splitter. The bullpen was unsettled - Dave Smith and Bill Dawley were very good, but closer Frank DiPino had a mediocre year, and Vern Ruhle wasn't very good. Even with Reynolds forced to take a regular role, the bench was a strength - Denny Walling, Alan Ashby and Kevin Bass in particular made useful contributions.
The Astros didn't get involved in many one-sided games. They did well when they did, going 8-4 and outscoring the other guys by 39 runs (95-56). They played lots of close games, and broke even - they went 24-25 in one-run games.

1967 Baltimore Orioles - World Series champs in 1966, the Orioles tumbled into a sixth place tie. The reasons were easy to spot. Their pitching, which had been the best in the AL during their championship season, was decimated by injuries. Long-time ace Steve Barber went 4-9 in 15 starts. Young guns Wally Bunker and Jim Palmer, 22 and 21 years old respectively, had both thrown World Series shutouts the previous October. In 1967, they combined to make just 18 starts and won only six games. Dave McNally, another World Series star, struggled to a 7-7 mark in just 22 starts. Rookie Tom Phoebus, a tiny RH power pitcher led the staff with a 14-9, 3.33 record in 33 starts.
The offense stayed about where it was - Frank Robinson was not as other-worldly as had been in 1966, but he had another magnificent season. Boog Powell had a poor year, but Paul Blair and Davey Johnson both took major steps forward, and Brooks Robinson and Curt Blefary both had productive seasons. The team was third in homers, third in slugging, third in on-base average, and fourth in runs scored.
Even with the problems on the mound, the Orioles should not have fallen so far below .500. But they had a tendency to beat other teams senseless, and pile up the offense - they went 14-6 in blowouts, outscoring the opposition by 78 runs (157-79). But they did not play particularly well in one-run games, going 19-26.

1951 Boston Braves - The Braves had slipped a bit since winning the pennant in 1948, but the 1951 team was of pretty much the same quality as the 1950 team that had gone 83-71 and finished fourth. They had a very good offense - not quite as good as Brooklyn's, but one of the best in the league. The middle infielders, Buddy Kerr and Roy Hartsfield (yes! Toronto's first manager!) didn't hit a lick, but catcher Walker Cooper and left fielder Sid Gordon led a balanced attack that did everything. They hit for average, power, got on base, and even stole some bases.
The pitching was roughly league average, maybe a bit better. (Braves Field in Boston was very much a pitcher's park.) Manager Billy Southworth preferred to lean very, very heavily on his top starters - the 1948 squad, of course, was famous as "Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain." Unfortunately, in 1951 the heavy work caught up with two of his three main men, as Johnny Sain and Vern Bickford could only combine to make 42 starts, going 16-22, after winning 39 games between them the previous year. Southworth had never built a bullpen, and the 1951 Braves didn't have a single decent reliever. All this left only the unstoppable Warren Spahn, who went 22-14 in 310 IP (it was the fifth of Spahn's 17 straight years working more than 245 IP, and the fourth of 13 20 win seasons.)
The Braves did not play well in one-run games (18-27), and they played very well indeed in lopsided games. They didn't have very many of them, but they went 10-3 in the ones they had, and outscored the opposition by 83 runs (137-54).

1964 Minnesota Twins - The Twins of this era were the offensive powerhouse of the AL, leading the league in scoring each year from 1963 through 1965. They were one of the great home run hitting teams of all time, hitting 225 homers in 1963 and another 221 the following year. The only team before them to hit more were Maris and Mantle's 1961 Yankees. They had more hitters than they had room for. In 1963, outfielders Bob Allison, Jimmie Hall, and Harmon Killebrew hit 113 homers - the next year, they added a rookie named Tony Oliva, who would lead the AL in hitting in his first two seasons. To make room for him, the Twins traded Vic Power and moved Bob Allison to first base. This still left Don Mincher without a regular spot in the lineup, and Mincher would hit 40 HRs in 500 at bats during these two seasons. They didn't really have a leadoff hitter, but it didn't much matter.
The bench, aside from Mincher, was not strong. They had some trouble figuring out how to configure the talent on hand. Killebrew, who had come up as a third baseman, spent 1962-64 playing LF badly, before moving back to the infield in 1965, the year they got everything right. In 1964, Bob Allison's speed and arm were wasted playing first base; he returned to the outfield in 1965. Second base was a problem, and the infield defense, aside from shortstop Zoilo Versalles, was not good.
Camilo Pascual was the ace of the staff, well supported by LH Jim Kaat. The Twins had trouble building a rotation around those two, although adding RH Jim Grant in mid 1964 would help, especially the following year. But hard throwing LH Dick Stigman's penchant for allowing homers caught up to him in 1964, and manager Sam Mele for some reason was loathe to put Jim Perry in the rotation and leave him there. The bullpen consisted mainly of two ancient journeyman, Al Worthington and Johnny Klippstein. They were both sensational, but the other arms around them were generally mediocre.
As you might expect, they played a lot of high-scoring games, and made a habit of pounding the other team senseless. They went 12-3 in blowouts, outscoring the other side by 73 runs (150-77). They were not very good in one-run games (20-31), and they played a lot of them

1908 Boston Red Sox - These Red Sox are the only team from the dead ball era on the list. The Red Sox were third in the league in runs scored, but in truth they were just a little above the league average. Detroit was in a class by themselves, and the A's, the Sens, and the Higlanders had poor offenses - the other four teams were in a tight little knot. What the Red Sox did well was hit for average (.245 was second best in the league) and for power (they led the league in triples, which was the main power source in 1908.) They were second in batting average and slugging. Right fielder Doc Gessler, having the best year of a fine career (it was his age 27 season!) was the offensive star.
Similarly, the pitching was just a little better than league average. Cy Young, at the age of 41, was brilliant (21-11, 1.26), but the rest of the staff, most notably Cy Morgan and a young Eddie Cicotte, was decidedly ordinary. They had little need for a bullpen, as the starters finished 102 of the 155 games. They appear to have been a slightly below average defensive team.
They didn't play that many blowouts in 1908, but there were a few and the Red Sox would win three of them in the season's final week. In one-sided games, they went 9-5 and outscored the opposition by 31 runs (96-65). They weren't particularly good in close games, going 17-21.

1968 Pittsburgh Pirates - It was the Year of the Pitcher, and across the board, the sixth-place Pirates look like a slightly better than average team. The average NL team scored and allowed 3.43 runs; the Pirates scored 3.58 (tied for fourth in a field of ten) and allowed 3.26 (fifth in the league.) The strength of the offense was hitting for average (second in the league) and stealing bases (led the league, thanks in large part to Maury Wills.) Roberto Clemente had his usual outstanding year (even if he failed to hit .300 for the first and only time since 1958) and Willie Stargell had an off-year, although by the standards of 1968, .237 with 24 HRs was actually pretty decent production. Matty Alou was second in the league with his .332 BAVG, and Donn Clendenon chipped in as well.
The infield defense up the middle, with Bill Mazeroski and Gene Alley, was state of the art. And no one played right field better than Clemente. The other fielders do not impress. Steve Blass (18-6, 2.12) and Bob Veale (13-14, 2.05) gave the rotation a fine right-left punch. The other starters, including a fading Jim Bunning, were not very good. Veterans Ron Kline and Elroy Face headed up a pretty decent bullpen.
The Pirates played a few blowouts, and went 10-6, outscoring the opposition by 46 runs (123-77). They played a great many one-run games, and lost lots of them (25-34).

In Conclusion As you can see, I was looking mainly at how these teams fared in blowouts and in one-run games. Lopsided results in either can account for run differentials that do not match up very well with the team's won-loss record. In most cases, both factors were operating - the team piled on the runs in lopsided games, while losing a lot of very close ones.

In fact, all of these teams did well in blowouts, and none of these teams even managed to break even in their one-run games. You'd expect that; it's pretty much required if you're going to outscore your opponents by more than 50 runs over the course of the season, while losing more often than you win.

The 2005 Blue Jays, and to a somewhat lesser extent the 1958 Cincinnati Reds, probably owed most of their problems to their knack for losing games by a single run.

The 1995 Orioles and the 1984 Astros won-loss record was mainly thrown out of kilter by their lopsided record in blowout games.

The other six teams managed a nicely balanced combination of these distinctive traits.

And now for some good news....

... The 1996 Baltimore Orioles were the AL Wild Card team.
... The Houston Astros spent one year in a holding pattern before winning the NL West in 1986.
... The Baltimore Orioles won 91 games in 1968, and went to the World Series the following year.
... The 1965 Minnesota Twins won the pennant.
... The Pittsburgh Pirates moved up to third place in 1969, won their division in 1970, and won the World Series in 1971.
... In 1909, the Boston Red Sox improved by 13 games. It was the first of 10 straight winning seasons, that included four World Series titles.
... The Boston Braves collapsed in 1952, but in 1953 they moved to Milwaukee and spent the rest of the decade as one of the elite teams in the National League, winning the World Series in 1957.

Only the Cincinnati Reds continued to spin their wheels. Bill DeWitt took over as GM in Novemeber 1960 - he overhauled the team that winter, they won the 1961 pennant, and went off on a 20 year run of consistent quality, with gusts of genuine greatness.

And now, I think I can bid farewell to 2005 Blue Jays, and set off on a serious Journey Through the Past. I'll see you in 1920...